Preparations Complete!

Preparing to cycle around Portugal while carrying everything with me without another person or support vehicle probably sounds daunting to a lot of people – and it is. There are definitely challenging aspects, but I am lucky to have two long-distance cycling trips under my belt. So putting together a packing list for this trip was pretty second nature by this point. I drew from both my experience of riding a bicycle across the US in 2010, as well as cycling along the Mediterranean from Spain to Greece in 2016, so I had a pretty good idea of what the essential things I would need are and how they would all fit together. The biggest challenge for this cycling trip is it’s a completely solo trip. When you’re cycling with at least one other person, as I did on my other trips, there are some shared items that you can split between bikes. This time I will carry everything I’ll need in order to be fully self-sufficient. I may have friends that visit me at different points on the trip and they can bring me some small things but essentially I will carry everything to live through this trip on my person, at all times.

The other major challenge for this trip is the bike I have chosen. It’s made from carbon fiber and while it has the lightest frame and is considered the best quality, it is also relatively delicate compared to an aluminum or steel frame bike. You can’t load up carbon fiber bikes like the workhorse I had on my first trip across the US which had front bar bags, bags around the front wheels, bags around the back wheels, and a backpack – completely packed to the gills, all on a bike I purchased for $70! Fast forward to the Mediterranean and I had a nicer bike – not a carbon fiber bike but still a stronger one than my current one – and I dropped down to just having bags over the back wheels.

For the US trip, we were fully loaded and prepared to camp (we even carried an ice fishing pole!)

For the Mediterranean trip, we traveled lighter and stayed in hotels or hostels

Over time and trip after trip, I have evolved into a very streamlined packer; packing extremely efficiently and every item being multipurpose. For this trip especially, I can’t afford to pack an item I won’t use.

Here is a peek at what I am packing for this trip along with a complete list:

All of the gear I will be using (and wearing!) for one month of cycling

All of the gear I will be using (and wearing!) for one month of cycling

My complete packing list for this trip

Leaving no stone unturned, this is my complete packing list down to my three pairs of thong underwear. This is 100% of what I will be carrying and surviving with for the month. Most is fairly standard packing for bicycle tours but a couple of things uniquely stand out for this trip. I made a conscious decision to do this trip even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, so there are additional considerations such as bringing three reusable cloth masks and hand sanitizer. I am a big fan of traveling with chopsticks because you can eat basically anything with them. I put together a micro first aid kit including bandages, paracetamol for extreme aches and pains as well as some saline solution for flushing out eyes; it’s surprisingly common to get an insect or piece of debris in your eye while cycling! I also have an emergency blanket in case I get stuck somewhere in a forest in the middle of the night and have to sleep under a tree – I don’t think that will happen but it’s good to be prepared.

I also replaced the very sleek race tires with what we call ‘knobby’ tires with more tread because I am guaranteed to encounter a wide variety of roads in Portugal, especially calçadas (cobblestones).

Tire comparison

New tire with tread (left) compared to the old racing tire (right)

In order to fit all of this necessary gear onto my very light and delicate fancy carbon fiber bike, I had to invest in a very special rack. Normally racks are easily installed over the back tires and can take a lot of weight but this bike required a custom rack. Amazingly I was able to fit everything in the previous photo (aside from what I’ll be wearing) into a small bag on the rack and a little handlebar bag.

Fully loaded and ready to go!

Shaka, fully loaded and ready to go!

And voila! That is my ULTRA ultra light packing strategy. The only possible disadvantage of this strategy is that one of the fun things about cycle touring is when you have a lot of bags, it’s clear you are going somewhere so curious people ask questions and are really interested in your adventure. This time I am travelling so light that strangers may not even realize that I’m doing a long distance trip! But in the end though I am very proud that I can condense everything into such a sleek layout and travel so light.

A quick word about my bike: I keep using the word ‘delicate’ to describe my bike when delicate is not really the most appropriate term. I named my bike “Shaka”, after Shaka Zulu, the historic warrior from what is now modern-day South Africa. The last bike that I put a lot of miles on was named “Spartacus” and I decided to continue the warrior theme. I am happy to introduce you to Shaka, my new warrior!